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Sophie Maguire: InstallerSPOTLIGHT Series

The InstallerSHOW Spotlight Series
In association with Grundfos

Over the coming weeks, our host Jess Shanahan will be profiling influential figures in the industry and hearing their thoughts on the challenges and opportunities they have faced in their careers. Watch or listen to the full interviews below.

Sophie Maguire is a 20-year-old plumbing apprentice who has built a considerable audience on social media, showing insights into her daily life and career. In 2023, she was named Rising Star at the Heating Installer Awards category, and at the time of our interview had just won the regional heat of HIP magazine’s female skills competition.

Sophie got her first taste of the construction world at secondary school, where she was able to take construction as an option, enabling her to get a feel for some of the skills that the industry requires. But she got experience even closer to home, literally, when at age 13, her parents renovated the house: “I got quite hands-on with that and really enjoyed it and thought it would be something I’d rather do than go to university.”

Sophie Maguire – Final Year Apprentice

She believes an apprenticeship provides real opportunity to embed the basic skills that will become essential as you go on. “I’d be so proud when I soldered something or managed to hang something straight. But now I can look back and know that I’ve made that entire house work thanks to my first fix.”

She has also become particularly proud of seeing the accuracy of her work in visible form: “I do find myself looking up at the ceilings and seeing everything is in nice straight lines!”

It is telling that Sophie reports that not all her teachers were as enthusiastic as her construction tutor for her to enter the industry, because they thought it was a ‘waste of her good grades’. And unfortunately she soon realised that a woman in plumbing is still not commonplace enough.

“In my construction class, I thought there would be a few girls but me and my mate who joined together got split into different classes, and we found we were both the only girls in each of our classes. But it was actually a massive shock to walk onto site and to feel like there are eyes burning into the back of your head – as if no one has ever seen a female plumber!”

But the benefits of having a good mentor soon made themselves clear at the employer she started out with. “He was really good at teaching me and was very patient, and he helped me find ways around the onsite attitude. When I started as a 16-year-old girl fresh out of school, I had never really lifted anything heavy in my life but now I’ve been doing it for three years, I can hang and lift the same amount of stuff as the bloke next to me.”

That pinpoints one of the key considerations that Sophie highlights for women thinking about going into the industry – some aspects can be, well, not ideal: “One thing that really put me off was the welfare facilities. I’m having to go home sometimes to go to the toilet or there’s nowhere to wash my hands or I’ve had to use a bucket. And at the beginning I did feel like I was tired all the time because it can be a physically demanding job.”

Sadly, she says, some of the sexism that is supposed to have been eradicated in the 21st century still happens on site.

Sophie’s key bit of advice is that if there’s something wrong, you should say so: “There is no problem in speaking your mind or, if something’s not right, in telling the right people. But you do need to develop a sense of resilience.”

Staying positive, though, is what gets her through the days when they are long and cold: “You will always have really rubbish days and I don’t know how many times I’ve said to myself ‘I’m going to pack it all in’, but it’s remembering that it will be better when it’s summer, and that it has become a lot better since the start.”

The good news too is that even in the course of Sophie’s three years in the construction business, she has seen the popularity of the trades increasing amongst women. “Now I’m going to college, and I’m walking around, and I’m seeing girls in engineering and I’m seeing girls in bricklaying – that’s just in three years, so I’m quite excited to see what the next three years will bring us.”

Even better, she says, some employers are now actively looking to take on female apprentices whereas before, getting an opportunity was much more of a struggle.

“For instance, my boss is up for trying to encourage more females because he thinks it’s a good thing, and because construction is adaptable when it comes to jobs in the trades, it’s becoming much more of an accommodating place for girls to be and there’s so many more people you can talk to as well.”

Alongside her awards and competition wins, Sophie has also had a considerable impact with her social media posting. She puts this down to wanting to have a ‘big sister environment’ and simply asking the sort of questions that women in the trades wanted to know:

“It ranged from ‘What trousers are best to wear on site?” to “Have you had to deal with this? I also wanted to bring a bit more awareness that it is a fun environment and something that is really good for people who don’t want to be sitting down all day. “

She also points to the awards and competitions as a good way for women in the trades to meet and share experiences: “It’s nice for girls to come together – before the HIP competition, I had never worked with another woman. So it was so nice being in an environment where it was just calm – I wish you could see more of that every day in the workplace… and when you get to do these competitions, it sort of proves to you that you can do things well, whether it is the technical challenges or pipe bending certain angles.”

When it comes to who has played a pivotal role in her career, Sophie has no hesitation in mentioning her parents who were there when she had ‘what felt like the world’s worst day’, the female tradies who have built a supportive network, and the brands who have helped to build her social media presence – with a special mention for Lawton Tubes.

And where better to finish than a shout out for us from Sophie: “I can’t fault InstallerSHOW. It’s such a nice environment and you sort of come away every time in this happy little bubble thinking, ‘Oh, now I can go back to work tomorrow!’”

Sophie Maguire will be appearing alongside other Spotlight panellists in a special discussion at InstallerSHOW on Thursday 27th in the Climate Solutions Theatre.
Register for your free ticket to InstallerSHOW, including the Spotlight panel discussion on day 3 HERE

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